Wednesday, April 4, 2012

From China to California, via Mexico City

Special thanks to Michele Jurich for sharing her story with us. The full version, originally published in The Catholic Voice, Oakland, CA, can be found here.

Wendy Jara's three-year journey through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults shows the evolution of her relationship with God.

Her literal journey begins in Guangzhou, China; then to Mexico City, where Jara receives a lift from Our Lady of Guadalupe, and continues in Walnut Creek, California. There's a dash of Korean drama, the Internet and a loving family with Mexican roots. There is love.

In the first year, Sister Dominic Bonnici, OP, who directs the adult faith formation program at St. Mary Parish in Walnut Creek, asked Jara, "What is God like to you?" "God is like Santa Claus in American culture," Jara replied. "I make a wish. I tell him what I want. Praying is making a wish." In the second year, she said, "I feel God is looking at me all the time and He knows what I'm doing and I'd better behave myself." In her third year, Jara, 28, sees God in a different light. "God is a father to me. And he is shaping me, not to what I want. It's what he wants."

Jara’s introduction to the Catholic faith came through her husband, Donato. Wendy and a friend enjoyed watching Korean drama, and went online to chat with others with similar interests. She was interested in chatting with a Korean on the subject. Donato Jara, who was studying international business in Korea, was looking for Korean friends online. "I didn't know he was American," Wendy Jara said.

During a break from school, he went to China. Three months later, they were married in China. A year later, on March 28, 2008, they married in the cathedral of her home city of Guangzhou. Twenty members of his family and friends came to the wedding; 60 came from her side of the family. "It was a beautiful cathedral," she said, "but back then, I didn't know anything."

Her faith began to take shape during a trip to Mexico, to meet her husband's grandmother. In the cathedral in Mexico City, "That was the first time I got something," she said. "Like a little click. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My husband told me stories. I felt like it was so powerful. Before that, I doubted. The packed church, with all the people so faithful — that really clicked for me."

Her first year in the United States, she started going to church. "Of course, I didn't know what was going on," she said. I started asking, "What am I doing here?"

Her husband introduced her to Sister Dominic. "I started my journey," said Jara, who came to classes armed with an electronic Chinese-English translator and a Chinese-English Bible.

"Three years ago, I felt very helpless and frustrated," Jara said. She found her RCIA instructors to be “like angels to me." But in the first year, she said, "I felt weak in my faith.” In the second year, Jara decided to end the faith journey. "The only thing I ask you," her husband told her, "is please don't give up."

She felt her faith growing stronger. "It was so wonderful to be in RCIA. I still have a stressful life, but I can see it in another way. God shapes you like clay. He shapes you to be the person he wants you to be. I feel that's me. All the obstacles … that's what God used to shape me. It means he cares about me."

The Rite of Election, at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, was a special time for Jara. "I think I will never forget that moment," she said. The rite came on a busy weekend, but the night before, she said, she fell asleep, both at peace, and excited.

"The feeling is like you have been in love with someone for three years and now you're going to get married," she said.

Jara is preparing for receiving the sacraments at the Easter Vigil. "I am really, really blessed," she said. "I knew nothing five years ago. I didn't know religion. I'm hoping I never give up. I want to be what God wants me to be."

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